Boiler House video/soundscape

From my birthday post at MASS MoCA in October:

I did a walking meditation in the John Cage/Merce Cunningham Bridge with its current sound installation, In Harmonicity, the Tonal Walkway, by Julianne Swartz. For the second time this week, the art has brought me back to my first semester of music theory at Smith, as the installation is a form of musique concrète. The 13:40 minute loop is composed entirely of recorded human voices. This work inspired Marilyn McCabe, the Boiler House poet who conceived and produced our collaborative videopoem last year, to envision a sound project this year. We each recorded a short segment based on a single word for her today. Stay tuned for the final product when it is available.

And now, introducing the completed video/soundscape!

Boiler House Voices: Truck Shadow Muscular Tunnel Window Hoosic Resurrection Flow from Mar McCabe on Vimeo.

Marilyn asked each of us to choose a single word that represented our reunion week. I chose the word “flow.” We each recorded our chosen word for Marilyn in several ways, including saying the word slowly, three times in quick succession, and sung. Marilyn then spent many hours with her computer, cutting up words, overlaying them, mixing sounds, and constructing the soundscape. I can’t pretend to know how she did it, but some of the techniques would have been similar to those used in the Julianne Swartz piece that inspired the endeavor.

Then, Marilyn assembled the video element. Most of the photos are from the Boiler House. I especially love the parts of the video that involve layering of the images, such as the dancing silhouette and the photo of the eight of us taken this year looking out from where some of the Boiler House windows used to be.

I love Marilyn’s creativity and inventiveness, which is always expanding my sense of what is possible. You should all do yourselves a favor and click on the links above the video to see more of Marilyn’s work with videopoems. You can also visit and follow Marilyn here on WordPress at O Write: Marilynonaroll’s blog.

Comments are welcome here or at the Vimeo link.

Shadow, shadow, shadow. Window.   Flow.

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poetic pondering

When I was at the most recent Boiler House reunion residency, I wrote a poem that had been percolating in my head for a while and workshopped it with the group. Unlike most of my poems, this one was more than a page long – two and a half pages – and I was very grateful for the input of the Boiler House Poets which helped me to re-craft it to a more manageable page and a half.

Earlier this month, I brought the edited version to workshop with Grapevine Group, my stalwart local group from whom I have learned so much. As it happened, that session marked the return of the elder-statesman poet of the group, who had been unable to be with us for many, many months due to health issues. I will refer to him here as M. I had been in workshop with M only a few times when I first joined the group and have always been awed by him. He is the one among us who has been published most frequently by the big name journals and who tends to ask if we are all submitting our work, a question which always stings a bit because that is the part of the process that I most often neglect.

So, along with being nervous about presenting this poem to Grapevine because it is particularly close to my heart, I was nervous because this accomplished poet who is a founder of our group was there.

…And everyone liked the poem. I was relieved and grateful – and happy to accept comments that give me a few more things to think about for the next round of edits.

I was especially humbled because M was very complimentary to my poem, saying that he could not have written it. Which, I and the other poets in the group know is true only in the context of M could not have written it as it was my personal experience, as he has certainly written poems that were more finely wrought and effective. Still, I was deeply touched by M’s compliment and specific comments on lines and techniques that he liked. Of course, it helped that I used repetition as a poetic technique in the poem, as that is one of his favorite devices. M asked if he could keep a copy of the poem and I was happy to comply.

We met again last night and I was surprised that M brought up my poem from last time. It’s very flattering – and enough to give me butterflies for fear of being disappointing, although my critique did go well again.

As most of my poet friends – and probably a few of my regular readers here – know, I struggle to have confidence in my poetry. On the one hand, this helps me to accept criticism and make edits that make my work stronger. On the other, it keeps me from putting my work out there as much as I should.

I admit that I will probably always feel that I am behind other poets in my knowledge and experience, given that my academic background is scant and I didn’t being to write seriously until I was in my early fifties. Still, I should more often reflect on how far I have come and how much I have grown and developed as a poet over the last several years, even though, for more prosaic reasons, I have not been doing much submitting/publishing in the last couple of years.

So much of that growth is due to my various poetry circles, so I offer my profound gratitude and love to the Binghamton Poetry Project, Grapevine Group, Sappho’s Circle, and the Boiler House Poets. I literally would not be the poet I am today without you – and perhaps not a poet at all.

Nana and mocha

I apologize, dear readers, for my recent absence from Top of JC’s Mind. I’ve been trying wildly to catch up on what I missed being away for a week while dealing with an avalanche of current happenings. This post begins an effort to bring you up to date.

While Nana had a bit of an acute sickness just as I returned home, when that cleared, she regained a bit of her old energy, though, as expected with her level of heart problems, not enough to be out and about.

Still, it is heart-warming to speak to her on the phone and hear her sounding a bit like she did for decades when we used to talk every morning while I was on my treadmill and she on her stationary bike.

Her appetite has picked up, too. We are still keeping her supplied with lemon pizzelles, a favorite treat she enjoys daily. She has also been eating coffee ice cream on a regular basis.

On my first day back in North Adams, I went to Moulton’s Spectacle Shoppe to ask them to hang a poster for our poetry reading and to ask if they had any mocha sauce in the refrigerator. Yes, that seems like an odd thing to ask in an eyewear store, but the Moulton family is heir to the mocha sauce recipe that made Apothecary Hall’s soda fountain a regular destination for area folks. The Moulton’s used to sell the sauce in their general store on Main Street, but, since that closed, they have made a batch monthly and sold it at their eyeglass store – for those who knew to ask for it. They didn’t have any on hand, but agreed to make a batch in the next week so that I could pick some up before I had to leave town.

I was thrilled to be able to present my mom with mocha sauce for her coffee ice cream. She even sprinkles on chopped nuts, which was traditional for Apothecary Hall sundaes. Paco has been enjoying some mocha sundaes, too, although I think that Nana probably eats them a bit more often than he.

And, yes, I have written a poem about mocha sundaes, which I read when the Boiler House Poets gave their reading on October fourth.

There is a new poem drafted about this recent mocha experience, which I am hoping will make its way into the collection, which is waiting patiently in my google docs for a major re-organization.

She says, mentally eyeing her calendar…

 

Good-bye, MoCA

I want to assure everyone that I did not get lost on my way home from North Adams. I did, however, arrive home later than expected Thursday and, unfortunately, yesterday involved a couple of family members being under the weather, so I didn’t get to post. I’m happy to report that people are feeling better today, so I will try to sneak this post in.

After the excitement of the reading and our discussion afterward, I wasn’t ready to sleep, so I stayed up late writing this blog post. When I did finally get to sleep, I didn’t stay that way, waking to write a concept/poem for my collection and the beginning of an unrelated poem. These may or may not turn out to be useful. Some middle-of-the-night ideas work; others, not so much.

We all spent a good chunk of Thursday morning packing and moving out of our apartments. We met back at our studios, where we were allowed to stay into the afternoon, and enjoyed our last lunch together in the cafe.

Then, the good-byes started, as three of our members needed to head for home.

Fortunately, five of us were able to stay until mid-afternoon, so we decided to do one last workshop session. The others graciously offered to review the beginning of my collection with me. They gave me lots of great feedback, some specific and some general, that I will use as I continue to work on the manuscript, which may also be changing its title.

One of the necessary skills that I am still developing is the ability to balance the diverse comments from other poets with my own sense of my work.  I am much, much better with it than I was when I first started, but looking at issues specific to manuscripts as opposed to each poem in isolation adds another layer to the enterprise.

At the moment, I am thinking about developing a new order for the poems after the Boiler House Poets finish weighing in before sending it out to some of my other poet friends for further comment.

Of course, there is also the issue of finding time and brain power to devote to revision back in the face of day-to-day life, which is… let’s just say, complicated. Still, I want very much to have the manuscript ready to submit to presses and/or contests before the Boiler House Poets next reunion, which we hope will be in early fall of 2018.

Can I do it?

Time will tell.

MoCA birthday

Today was the last full day of our Boiler House Poets second reunion residency at MASS MoCA.  We packed it as full as we possibly could with poetry and camaraderie, knowing we will have to scatter to the winds tomorrow.

And it was my birthday.

Some highlights:
* I wandered the grounds before the museum opened this morning. The Boiler House gate was open and the sound installation was operating; I got to experience it alone, walking all the way up to the top where I could look out over North Adams and MoCA, including all the solar panels. Alone – except for the pigeons who roost in the Boiler House, several of whom I startled into flight as I wandered.

* I did a walking meditation in the John Cage/Merce Cunningham Bridge with its current sound installation, In Harmonicity, the Tonal Walkway, by Julianne Swartz. For the second time this week, the art has brought me back to my first semester of music theory at Smith, as the installation is a form of musique concrète. The 13:40 minute loop is composed entirely of recorded human voices. This work inspired Marilyn McCabe, the Boiler House poet who conceived and produced our collaborative videopoem last year, to envision a sound project this year. We each recorded a short segment based on a single word for her today. Stay tuned for the final product when it is available.

*There have been so many lovely birthday wishes and supportive comments today. Life has been so complicated over these last months that there were times today that I felt overwhelmed. I would not have made it through without the support of my poet-friends here and the well-wishes that arrived today from family and friends. Thank you all so much.

*And our reading! Ever since the lead-up to the inaugural Tupelo residency that brought the Boiler House Poets together two years ago, I have wanted to do a public reading in North Adams. Because this is my home area and I have written quite a few poems about it (and just this week have organized the poems into the first draft of a manuscript), it felt like the right place to share some of those works. I also wanted to offer people here the chance to hear the work of the Boiler House Poets, each of whom is dedicated to her craft and to sharing her unique voice.

We presented our reading at Makers’ Mill, the art-space where we had taken our printmaking class over the weekend. Kate Carr, the former director of Makers’ Mill, graciously served as our organizer and accepted our invitation to read with us, as she is a poet as well as a visual artist. We were pleased that we had a receptive and attentive audience in attendance and that we had to quickly set up more chairs from the supply closet to accommodate everyone!

It especially warmed my heart to have my friends and family in attendance. Cousin S was there and my high school friend who hosted me for Sunday dinner. I was excited and amazed that a woman that I worked with over summers when I was in college came with her husband. I had not seen her since 1981. We have kept in touch with Christmas cards and notes over the years, but, because we aren’t connected over social media and neither of us are the type to send photographs, we didn’t have a visual reference for our middle-aged selves; still, I recognized her within seconds. I was deeply grateful to have four people there who are part of the community at large and was pleased that they liked my poems.

Poets are sometimes accused of writing predominantly for other poets. I don’t think that it is true of most poets, but I am sure that it is not true for me. I think of myself as a community poet and I think that most of my poems are not intimidating for general readers. Most people in the United States didn’t have much exposure to poetry in school, or, worse, came away with the feeling that they couldn’t possibly understand it because they didn’t arrive at the same interpretation as their textbook.  I don’t want anyone to be afraid of poetry! I loved that our reading had a range of kinds of poetry that could be experienced on many levels. I know there were people in the room who could name the poetic devices being employed and appreciate the choice of particular words and sounds and knew the poetic forebearers of the style, etc. and there were people who just knew how each poem made them feel about gardens or good-byes or mocha sundaes. And it’s all good.

*After the reading, we poets stayed up talking and eating. I stopped into The Hub and got a mocha sundae to go as my birthday treat. Not as good as the old Apothecary Hall mocha days, but acceptable.

And, yes, the poem about mochas was one of mine.

MoCA Monday

I started the day with steel cut oats and a hot caramel at Brewhaha, a fun cafe on the same block as our apartments. I got in the studio early, revised the poem I workshopped yesterday, updated the manuscript with the changes, and started doing timings for prospective poems for our reading on Wednesday. Somewhere in there, I was momentarily on Facebook when I saw the news of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It reminded me of our initial residency here at MASS MoCA, which coincided with one of the big Paris attacks. I lift my thoughts and prayers on behalf of all the dead and injured, their family and friends, those caring for the wounded, and our woundedness. The world is swallowed in destruction and sorrow and it is so much harder to take when human beings perpetrate violence.

I allow myself a bit of time to mourn; then, try to turn back to art.

I was anxious to visit Building 6, which opened a few months ago. I wanted to go right at opening time for the day, but had forgotten that MoCA had already switched to off-season hours, which meant not opening until 11:00. I went back to the studio and followed instructions that daughter E had thoughtfully sent me on how to create a table of contents in google docs. And it worked! I had to do a bit of editing, but I now have a table of contents which can be refreshed to correct itself when I make changes.

I tried to experience as much of Building 6 as I could in the time available. I was amazed by James Turrell’s light installations. The work of Jenny Holzer is devastating. I loved the Gunnar Schonbeck instrument collection, especially the ones we were allowed to play. It was interesting how many of the instruments used organ pipes, albeit in unconventional ways. There was also a piano string assembly, which reminded me of my 20th century theory class at Smith and the concept of prepared piano. I had a lot of fun plucking and creating glissandos on the open strings.

The most striking thing for me, though, was the building itself. I have seen the exterior of this building throughout my life, built into the point where the two branches of the Hoosic meet. At the prow, there are now large windows, allowing an expansive view of the melding of the river. I found myself drawn to the windows along the sides of the building, as well. These are the old mill windows. Many of the panes show that glass is still a liquid, as you can see the waviness of the glass caused by the passage of time. I also love the old wood, brick , and stone. MASS MoCA understands that appeal and features exhibits of both old and new artistic renderings of the building itself.

The later part of the afternoon was taken up with workshopping, which is always so informative and enlightening for me. I love the work that everyone is doing and learn so much for everyone’s poems and comments.

After dinner, we had a special treat. Marilyn read the chapbook she is developing to us. So amazing! We are planning to workshop if with her tomorrow, but people couldn’t help but get a head start tonight.

More tomorrow.

MoCA Sunday

Sorry for the pun-ny title. It’s late and I couldn’t resist.

The day started early. I woke up with a poem that I had been mulling forming in my head, so I grabbed my laptop and started writing. Although most of my poems are short, this one is significantly longer. I worked for a couple of hours, slept a bit more, woke again, and finished the draft, all before 7:00.

I went to the studio and finished my first attempt at ordering the poems for my collection before heading to 8:30 Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, directly across from MASS MoCA. It used to be called St. Anthony’s and was my Nana Giacapuzzi’s church, a fact which appears in one of the poems in my collection.

After church, I went back to the studio, intending to visit the newly opened Building 6 when it opened, but I had forgotten that the museum doesn’t open until 11:00 on Sunday. I looked at the pile of pages that now constituted my manuscript sitting on the corner of my studio table and began the tedious job of copying them into a single google doc. I also needed to do a bit of editing from a prior critique.

I decided that I would wait to visit Building 6 tomorrow, when I will have more time to experience the art and write about the pieces that inspire words.

I’m pleased to say that I got my document assembled before our 12:30 group lunch. I am happy to have a start, but have a ton of work to do, assembling the table of contents; writing an introduction, acknowledgements, and notes; re-arranging, editing, adding, cutting poems; and then figuring out to whom I should submit the manuscript.

We had a lively discussion at lunch, took a brief break, and then re-convened in the studio for workshopping. I got lots of great ideas for revisions of a poem in my collection. (See above paragraph – editing.)

I confess that I cut out a bit early to visit a friend of B and mine from our high school days in North Adams. Bonus: her husband is a retired chef, who made a fantastic pork tenderloin with fruit for dinner. We caught up on each other’s news, took a walk, and talked some more. I showed her lots of photos of Baby ABC, who she has not yet met. Maybe later in the fall.

I returned to our apartments in time for a discussion among the Boiler House Poets of experiences with manuscript reviews, conferences, online courses, and publication. I love to hear about all these possibilities; maybe, some year or other, I will try one or another of them out.

And now, time to publish this post and get some sleep.

And while I don’t have a poem about MoCA Sundays, I do have one about mocha sundaes.